On a new studio set, the acclaimed roots artist mines pain for poetry 

Five years ago, as Allison Moorer released her seventh studio album, Crows, she was married to singer-songwriter Steve Earle and pregnant with their son. Now, as she releases her latest, Down to Believing, much has changed. Her near-decade-long marriage to Earle has ended, and their son, John Henry, has been diagnosed with autism.

But Moorer has never been shy about exploring personal issues in her music, and has proven herself a master at finding beauty in pain. “I’ve been writing about my family and my experiences since day one,” she says. “They shape and color my filter, so they have a lot to do with how I see the world. Yes, the songs are very personal, but really, I don’t see any other reason to write.”

Although the process isn’t easy, Moorer works to make sense of personal issues through her art. “I don’t sit around lamenting that I’ve had these things happen,” Moorer says. “I try to figure them out, and figure out how to make the best of it. It’s a wonderful gift, to make art out of that.”

The new record didn’t come quickly. The songs were written over a period of several years, with no particular plan for an album. “The first song I wrote that ended up on the record was ‘Blood,’ which I wrote almost four years ago. I was pregnant and trying to figure out how I was going to work and be a parent. I didn’t know what the balance would be—and I still don’t.

“I’ve written a ton of songs over the past few years. But it wasn’t until I did a bunch of demos of songs that eventually ended up on the record—‘I Lost My Crystal Ball,’ ‘Down to Believing’ and ‘If I Were Stronger’—that I realized I had the makings of an album. I’d never just thrown a bunch of songs together and made an album—I don’t work that way. They need to be saying something. So I had to give thought to what that would be. Once I figured it out, I pulled out some other songs I had lying around that I knew would fit.”

Moorer turned to Kenny Greenberg—who had produced her first two albums—to helm the project. “I called in Kenny because he’s great in the studio, such a wonderful guitarist and he gets things done really quickly. When you don’t have a big budget you need that,” she says. “Working with Kenny put me in a really safe spot. To have him at the helm made me feel it was OK.”

–Lee Zimmerman

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